Certainly! In recent years, huge improvements have been made in terms of what you can get for your money. Coffee machine manufacturers have stepped up their game to allow their cheaper models to include features such as easier milk frothing that anyone can master out of the box to stainless steel parts – that were exclusive to their mid to high end machines.
From $100 machines up to the best espresso machine under 300 you’ll find these enhancements. In today’s market, you find more water storage (30 – 40oz), better extraction achieved through higher pressure (10-15 bar) and more.
There are a few short coming as always like a more plastic exterior and that you’ll have to baby sit the machine and tell it when to stop frothing and stop extracting espresso – but these become minor as you practice over time.
What can you make with these machines?
Most budget friendly espresso makers come standard with a pannarello wand. A pannarello wand typically features a large hole at the bottom of the steam wand with a plastic covering. The plastic covering allows for air intake to make it easier to steam and froth over a traditional wand.
With this inclusion, you’ll have the ability to steam milk with out issue out of the box. With steamed milk; you can craft the most popular coffee types. These include:
- Espresso / Long Black / Americano – These coffee types are by far the easiest to craft from home as they only require two basic ingredients – espresso and hot water. Depending on the coffee type you are making, will depend on the amount of hot water you’ll need to add. Espresso requires none if you like the bitter taste while an Americano would see a ratio of 50 / 50 espresso to hot water where as a Long Black would require a lot more hot water.
- Latte – Just as easy to craft with the inclusion of a pannarello wand, you start by extracting one too two shots of espresso depending on how strong you like your Latte. From here, you steam either Milk or Soy and add it to your espresso at a ratio of 4 times your espresso.
- Cappuccino – Also easy to craft with a budget friendly machine, again start with 1 too 2 shots of espresso depending how strong you prefer your coffee. Froth Milk or Soy with your steamer and fold it into your espresso to craft a rich creamy beverage.
Espresso extraction with these machines now equals that of the more expensive brands. Past budget friendly models would feature poor pressure (5 – 10 bar), where as in 2022 and beyond, you can expect to see 10 – 15 bar set as standard. This allows for hot water to be pushed through the coffee grind, enabling the machine to extract more of the oils and flavours – leading to a better tasting beverage.
These machines come with one downside however, it wont automatically shut off after reaching 1 to 2 shots of espresso – you need to stop it manually. Run the extraction for too long and you can over extract the espresso leading to a bitter flavour.
If you are unsure how much you have extracted, you can always start with a shot glass or other measuring cup that shows 20ml of a single shot or 40ml for a double shot. After a little practice, you won’t need the measuring cup and you’ll instinctively know how much you need to extract and when to stop.
Milk / Soy Steaming
Huge improvement have been made in this space as well with the introduction of the pannarello wand. Traditional wands found on the more expensive models give you more control over how much froth you make, but take time to master.
With the pannarello wand, you simply dip the wand into your milk or soy and hit the start button. One down side is that some machines product too much froth, but you can always scrap of the top, what you don’t plan on using.
You can use you hand on the bottom of the stainless-steel jug as a guide as to how hot the steamed milk is – or if you are new, you can purchase a separate temperature gauge to see when you have reached the optimal temperature with out over heating the contents.
Ok, so as you can see from the above – in today’s market, it is well worth picking up a budget friendly machine if you are planning on spending between $100 and $300 dollars. Todays features and inclusions equal that of the bigger fancier machines with all the bells and whistles.
You won’t get the automated features that these machines include, but that also takes the fun out of the process (in my opinion). Different grind types and beans (season also dependent) require a slightly different approach – that you lose with fully automated models.
So, there you have it, go out and experiment with these machines, they are a lot of fun. After you master the process, you can amaze friends and family with your new found ability.